Throwing Jesus off a cliff
Reverend Michael A. Trask
In a small town, built scenically upon a steep hill, a crowd of church people came flying out of a worship service: all red in the face and filled with rage. The crowd took on a life of its own as it pushed one man up the street, out of the town, and to the edge of their scenic hill. They worked together like drovers, as if they had done this before.
The man they pushed, the man they sought to kill, the man who enraged them, was Jesus: Jesus, the man who inspired 10,000 hymns; Jesus, the friend of children; Jesus, the one who has since been adored by billions they held in scorn. How did the the people of that town come to this point? Let’s roll the tape backwards and we shall see.
It was the sabbath day and Jesus went to church as was his custom… he was in the synagogue in town that he grew up in. And he followed the same procedure that we we follow to this day: He read a section of scripture and then he preached from it. The particular section of the word which Jesus read that day was from Isaiah. We would call it Isaiah 61:1,2. They didn’t have reference numbers. Those were added many years later…to make it easier to find stuff. And Jesus used a scroll. They didn’t have a whole Bible together like we do… they had different books of the bible in scrolls. So Jesus rolled through the scroll…scanning….scanning until he found the verse that reads thusly:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled the scroll up, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. That’s the position they preached from in those days. And so All eyes were upon him. And he said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Do you get it? The scripture he read was messianic! And he was saying to them. “Hey, I’m the guy. I’m the one that Isaiah was talking about. I’m the one anointed by the spirit, I’m the one sent to proclaim liberty to the captives, I’m the one who has come to declare the good news to you right now….here for you, the Messiah!”
But it didn’t click! They didn’t get it! Instead they were, as the text says, “marveling” at his speech. You know how sometimes people will tell you how much they love a particular song? How much it moves them and how they crank the radio when it comes, but then you recite the words of the song it ruins it for them? People can get so caught up in the meaning that they themselves impose on the music that they don’t really hear it.
This is what was going on while Jesus was preaching. They knew he was famous. They’d been hearing about all the stuff he’d been doing in other towns. As the reports came in, it became clear that Jesus was renowned, which fired the hopes of the townspeople. For you see. Nazareth wasn’t very well thought of. One of Jesus disciples, upon first hearing of him remarked “Nazereth, can any good come out of Nazareth?” That was kind of the joke about Nazareth. And really got the goat of those who lived there. But not any more! Something good was coming from Nazareth! With the success of Jesus, sweet vindication would be theirs. So as Jesus preached, they weren’t really listening. They were remarking about how graciously he spoke. “Can you believe this is Joseph’s Son! they remarked.”
It was like a religious experience to have him in their midst, but there was no religion about it. This was about pride in their town, not about the Messiah that stood before them. He read from Isaiah, but they didn’t hear it. All they heard was the dance of the sugar plum fairies.
Now Jesus could have tapped into this excited and pleasant feeling the people were having. He could fed it and stoked it. With just a few correctly timed words he could have stoked the fire of civic pride and used it to promote himself. But he couldn’t and he wouldn’t do that. Because he had but one purpose and one purpose only, to bring them to repentance and the forgiveness of sins so that they might be restored to God, and the pride they were feeling is inimical to that. If they were ever going to see who he was, he would have to cut through this image they had superimposed over him.
So Jesus says “Doubtless you will quote me the proverb, Physician heal yourself, what we have heard you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” He then went on to point out that during the time of Elijah, when there was a great famine over the land, that even though their were many widows in Israel, Elijah was sent only to the widow of Zarepeth…a non Israelite… a gentile. And then in the time of Elisha, though there were many lepers in Israel, Only Naaman a Syrian was healed. Why? Because as Israel was busy trying to prove how they didn’t need the word of God, these non-Israelites confessed that they did. They Admitted that they were the poor, the broken and the lame. They admitted that they needed help.
That’s the only way to receive the Savior, by admitting that you need him. What good is a Savior if you refuse to admit that you need saving? The people of Nazareth were not going to admit that they needed a Savior, they were going to add him to their pride parade and Jesus would have none of that. He wasn’t going to be what they wanted him to be so they were going to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus, passed through their midst and went away.
Jesus walk away from those who insist they don’t need him. So why do people insist they don’t need him? Why do people spend so much time trying to prove that they don’t need to be saved?
I once waited a long time to get a medical issue attended to. When at last I went to the clinic, my physician looked at me with a dumbfounded expression on his face and said: “Why did you wait so long!” I kind of shrugged my shoulders and looked sheepish. I had no ready answer.
Why did I wait so long? Why was it so difficult for me to admit that something was wrong with me? Because that’s what we do. “I’m fine!” we say to ourselves and to anyone who will inquire. Ever notice how when lose our balance and fall, how we pop up as quickly as possible. “Nothing wrong here, nothing to see…. I’m fine really I am” Even after a serious car accident enduring violent forces of great magnitude, people will say, “I’m fine, really I am.”
Why are we like this. Are we knuckleheads or something? No. We are fragile fallen creatures who are used to covering for ourselves. It’s what we do. It’s how we meet the world from day to day. We are the people who are fine. We are the people who tell ourselves we’re fine. The folks in Nazareth were using Jesus fame to tell themselves and their town was fine. But that’s not why Jesus came. He did not come to boost civic pride. He did come to boost any pride. In fact pride prevents the real boost he intends to give.
We have to cut this out when it comes to Jesus. And we can do that because he will not think ill of us. Already he loves us. As sinful as we are, he loves us. He’s made that clear. He’s also made it clear that he wants to help us. He’s the messiah. That’s what the messiah does. We do ourselves no favors in the presence of God when we insist that we are fine….cuz we aren’t really fine. We struggle with all manner of sinful passions and problems and we need all kinds of help. We need mercy and grace every single day of our lives. And God, he already knows that. Remember it was God who said “a broken and contrite heart I will not despise.”
Those who insist they don’t need Jesus as their Messiah end up pushing him out of their town and out of their lives. But for those who freely admit that they need him, he remains and blesses and forgives. So the difference between hearing and not hearing the word, knowing or not knowing Jesus, is made by our pride. Pride stuffs up our ears and prevents us from recognizing. Pride’s got to go. AMEN